www.wvgazettemail.com U.S. and World http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2017, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Republicans taking a big political risk on health care http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170611/GZ0101/170619905 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170611/GZ0101/170619905 Sun, 11 Jun 2017 20:59:42 -0400 By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar The Associated Press By By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Republicans are taking a big political risk on health care.

They're trying to scale back major benefit programs being used by millions of people. And they're trying to do it even though much of the public is leery of drastic changes, and there's no support outside the GOP.

It's not stopping them.

After seven years attacking former President Barack Obama's health care law, Republicans are finally in control of the entire government and say they have to deliver now. Yet they're not talking much about the trade-offs that come with sweeping changes, not to mention estimates that millions more people could be uninsured.

"I don't think anything of this consequence has ever been passed in the entitlement arena," said Jim Capretta, a health policy expert with American Enterprise Institute, a business-oriented think tank. "It's a piece of legislation that would be highly consequential."

Unprecedented "is a perfectly fair characterization," said Lanhee Chen, who was policy adviser to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Like Capretta, Chen agrees with the general direction congressional Republicans are taking, if not all the specifics.

Senate Republicans are winnowing down policy options in search of 51 votes to advance House-passed legislation this summer.

Some of the central issues in the GOP's health care gamble:

Health care programs usually grow faster than other government services. Republicans want to break that decadeslong trend, although they'd leave Medicare largely untouched for now.

The talk is all about repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But the GOP's American Health Care Act would have a lasting impact on Medicaid, the federal-state program covering about 70 million low-income and disabled people, including many elderly nursing home residents.

Republicans would phase out richer financing that the Obama-era law provides states that expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults. More significantly, the GOP would limit future federal spending for the broader program. Medicaid has been an open-ended entitlement, with the feds matching part of what every state spends, about 60 percent on average.

The House-passed GOP bill would cut $834 billion from projected federal Medicaid spending over a decade, leading to a reduction of about 17 percent in people covered by the program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"There is no capacity at the state level to pick up the slack if the federal government withdraws its commitment," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said at a recent budget hearing. Some Republican governors also question the plan.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Medicaid can be more efficiently managed by the states, and that open-ended federal financing doesn't necessarily mean improved health for beneficiaries.

In addition to reducing federal health spending, Republicans want to lower premiums for those who buy their own health insurance, an estimated 20 million people. About half receive subsidies under the Obama law, but the rest pay full freight and many have seen steep premium increases stemming from changes under that law.

"Across America, premiums are skyrocketing, insurers are fleeing and the American people are paying much more for much worse coverage," President Donald Trump said recently in Cincinnati.

Republicans would try to lower premiums by loosening some of the law's requirements, including standard benefits and a guarantee that those in poor health won't be charged more. People would be required to maintain "continuous coverage" to avoid penalties.

The CBO estimates the GOP approach would lead to lower premiums than under current law, but the trade-offs could be significant.

Insurance, on average, would pay for a smaller share of health care costs, meaning deductibles and copayments are likely to be higher. In some states, certain policies may not cover services such as substance abuse treatment. Over time, people with health problems might be priced out of the market.

Trump's promise to repeal Obama's health overhaul was a fixture of his campaign. But he also said he was a different kind of Republican, who would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Later in the campaign, Trump announced support for a Medicaid block grant, a way of limiting federal spending on the program. But candidate Trump didn't elaborate on details and repeatedly promised voters "great" health care.

The president again made that promise last week: "The Republicans are working very, very hard on getting a great health care plan," Trump said.

But health care policy is all about trade-offs, and Republicans have largely avoided talking about downsides. Democrats are ready to pounce.

"There are critical, life-changing decisions being made about Americans' health care right now in the United States Senate that should have people on high alert," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in this weekend's Democratic radio address. "This legislation is going to put the health of millions of Americans at risk."

Republicans never ceased complaining that Obama passed his law without a single GOP vote. Now, their bill has failed to garner any Democratic support. Not surprisingly, polls show Democrats and independents disapprove of the legislation by wide margins.

"They're sending legislation through the Congress that is only supported by one party ... and somehow thinking it's going to have a different outcome," said economist Gail Wilensky, a Republican. "It's like, really, why would you think that?"

Jenkins clarifies stance on AHCA http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0101/170609583 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0101/170609583 Fri, 9 Jun 2017 18:29:47 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman When the Congressional Budget Office released its harsh analysis of the American Health Care Act last month, West Virginia Republican congressman and Senate candidate Evan Jenkins, who voted for the bill before the score was available, issued a statement leaving more questions than answers.

"The American Health Care Act is simply a step in the process to find a truly patient-centered solution to our broken health care system," Jenkins said in May. "I have said repeatedly that this legislation needs more work in the Senate. The CBO score is one piece of information, but it is important to remember this bill is not final. I will not support a final bill that fails to protect our most vulnerable and bring relief to the thousands of West Virginians who have been harmed by Obamacare's government-knows-best health care system."

At the time, Jenkins' press team did not answer clarifying questions regarding whether the statement implied the House-passed bill does not protect poor or sick West Virginians as is, or if it meant he voted on an incomplete bill, betting on the Senate to patch it up.

Jenkins and the rest of the state's House congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill, which passed by four votes.

In recent days, Jenkins has sought to clarify his stance on the AHCA. He said although it allows states to opt out of requirements prohibiting insurance providers from discriminating between healthy individuals and those with pre-existing conditions, and another requiring insurance providers' plans to cover certain essential health benefits such as doctors' services, prescription drug coverage, mental health services and others, minimum coverage under current law, he does not want to see West Virginia seize those waivers.

"I've called on Gov. [Jim] Justice to make it clear that West Virginia will not seek a waiver from the pre-existing conditions and essential benefit package," he said. "And again, there are some states and some state legislators who think their state very much would like those waivers for whatever reason. Part of the legislative process is trying to find a balance to address needs at the state levels. The waiver is simply a request of a provision that allows those waivers from those states that have a keen interest in it.

"I don't think it's in the best interest of West Virginia. Does this bill mandate a waiver be sought? Absolutely not. While some appropriately might say, I wonder what West Virginia would do, I don't think there's any appetite for seeking a waiver in our state and I've actually called on Gov. Justice to express his desire or his administrations position in not seeking a waiver."

Grant Herring, a spokesman for the governor, said he could not confirm Jenkins' claim, and did not respond to follow-up inquiries.

Along with the waivers, other areas of concern for the bill stem from the cuts to Medicaid. While the Affordable Care Act expanded federal Medicaid funding, the AHCA would continue this through 2020, before beginning the process of cutting $834 billion from the program by 2026.

Medicaid is funded jointly by states and the federal government, providing health coverage to people with low incomes, people with disabilities, children and pregnant women. It covers roughly 29 percent of the state's population, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, including nearly 170,000 people covered under the ACA's Medicaid expansion alone, according to June 5 data from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

In light of these cuts, the CBO predicted 23 million fewer Americans would have health care coverage under the AHCA than under current law by 2026.

When asked about the 23 million figure, Jenkins said the prediction does not account for economic growth, which will bring some Medicaid recipients above the Medicaid maximum income level, and other factors.

"People have jumped to this belief when they see this 23 million fewer covered in the out-years that that means they are being intentionally removed and thrown off of the Medicaid rolls when that's simply not the case," he said. "Many of them will get good jobs, many of them will turn 65, others for various reasons. Maybe they get a job with an employer that has employer sponsored insurance and they come off the Medicaid rolls."

He also pointed out CBO predictions are not always air-tight, citing the office's overestimation of how many people would enroll in coverage through exchanged under the ACA.

Since the AHCA's May 4 House passage, Senate leadership has moved forward with plans to rewrite the bill, though details are being held close to the chest. Because Republicans hold a thin, two-seat majority in the Senate, they can only afford to lost two votes, assuming all Democrats oppose the bill and Vice President Mike Pence casts a tie-breaking vote.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

Capito bucks GOP leaders on AHCA's 3-year Medicaid expansion rollback http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0101/170609585 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0101/170609585 Fri, 9 Jun 2017 18:02:24 -0400 Erin Beck By Erin Beck National news outlets are reporting that Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is supporting phasing out federal Medicaid expansion funding after seven years.

GOP senators are in negotiations over changes to the American Health Care Act, Republicans' plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Ashley Berrang, Capito's spokeswoman, noted that the original version of the AHCA would end Medicaid expansion in three years, by 2020. All three of West Virginia's members of the House of Representatives voted for that bill, which narrowly passed.

Berrang said via email that, "as Politico reported there are a number of things in the mix, and Senator Capito has been a driving force behind those conversations."

"Her goal remains the same - she wants to ensure that West Virginians, including those who currently receive coverage through the Medicaid expansion, continue to have access to affordable coverage going forward," she said. "In Senator Capito's view, the House bill does not adequately protect those in the Medicaid expansion, and she is working with her colleagues in the Senate to make those protections more certain."

The ACA made extra funding available for states that chose to offer Medicaid to people who made up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, an income of about $33,000 for a family of four in 2017. About 170,000 people in West Virginia are insured through Medicaid expansion, which is almost entirely paid for by the federal government.

On Friday, Politico reported that the Senate is considering altering the bill so that Medicaid expansion financing would roll down in about 5 years.

"That's somewhere between the three years [Kentucky Sen. Mitch] McConnell and leadership wants and the seven years worth of expansion financing that Sens. Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito and others want," the news outlet reported.

GOP senators also are grappling over funding for subsidies, other changes to the Medicaid program and prohibitions on abortion coverage, according to the same report.

The Hill also reported that Capito is advocating for a seven-year phase down, from 2020 to 2027.

Capito was one of four GOP senators who sent a letter to McConnell, the Senate majority leader, in March, saying they "will not support a plan that does not include stability for Medicaid expansion populations."

Berrang also said, "the Senate bill is still very much a work in progress."

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has said, in a letter to members of Congress, that repeal of Medicaid expansion would eliminate up to $900 million from West Virginia's health care economy, annually.

"Federal funding must be maintained or West Virginia's healthcare infrastructure will collapse," he wrote.

Reach Erin Beck at erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5163, Facebook.com/erinbeckwv or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

Death rates up for almost all groups of Americans due to opioid crisis http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0115/170609591 GZ0115 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0115/170609591 Fri, 9 Jun 2017 11:16:43 -0400 By Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating The Washington Post By By Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating The Washington Post The opioid epidemic that has ravaged life expectancy among economically stressed white Americans is taking a rising toll among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, driving up the overall rate of premature death among Americans in the prime of their lives.

Since the beginning of this decade, death rates have risen among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in virtually every racial and ethnic group and almost all states, according to a Washington Post analysis. The death rate among African Americans is up 4 percent, Hispanics 7 percent, whites 12 percent and Native Americans 18 percent. The rate for Asian Americans also has increased, but at a level that is not statistically significant.

After a century of decreases, the overall death rate for Americans in these prime years rose 8 percent between 2010 and 2015.

The jump in death rates has been driven in large measure by drug overdoses and alcohol abuse, according to The Washington Post's analysis of mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What it reflects is an out-of-control epidemic right now," said Josh Sharfstein, director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins. "It's affecting the economy. It's affecting the entire community. This is an absolute call to action for public health."

Ashish Jha, a health policy professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, added, "These are people who are in the most productive years of their lives - the years where they're supposed to be raising kids and becoming leaders of the next generation."

The Post confirmed the contours of the rise in death rates with CDC officials. The rate is adjusted for the nation's changing age profile, and every five-year age group (for example, 35 to 39, or 40 to 44) showed an increase in mortality.

Preliminary data from the first half of 2016 suggests that the trend is continuing, said Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics for the CDC.

"I think we're in for another steep increase in the drug overdose deaths overall," Anderson said.

The rash of deaths is a statistical echo of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the combination of the crack cocaine and HIV epidemics took a heavy toll on young Americans.

Many factors are likely contributing to the current spike, but opioids stand out. The widespread abuse of prescription drugs has become a national crisis, with addicts overdosing on prescription opioids; their illegal cousin, heroin; and, increasingly, synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil, which are far more powerful and deadly.

Alcohol-related deaths also have increased among whites, blacks and Hispanics, the data show. Meanwhile, homicide, the leading cause of death among young blacks, also has risen since the beginning of this decade.

The new mortality spike is seen in almost every state. The breadth of the nation's deteriorating health has not been widely appreciated. Academic researchers and the news media in recent years have focused on the most intensely affected regions, such as Appalachia and rural New England, and on premature deaths among white Americans, a trend that began around 1999 and continues unabated.

For more than a century, Americans lived much longer lives because of improvements in medicine, sanitation, control of contagious diseases, nutrition and individual health care. But American mortality appears to have reached an inflection point around 2010, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession. Generally positive mortality trends among blacks and Hispanics flattened out, then gradually worsened.

For blacks and Hispanics, the biggest increase in deaths came in 2015, data for which was released earlier this year.

The geography of the epidemic also expanded dramatically. From 1999 to 2010, only seven states showed an increase of more than 10 percent in the death rates of people ages 25 to 44: West Virginia, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. All have predominantly white populations and few if any big cities.

The data from 2010 to 2015 tell a different story. During that period, 33 states showed death rates rising by at least 10 percent in the 25-44 age bracket, including all of New England and the Midwest Rust Belt. The death rate in Illinois is up 31 percent. Only in Hawaii and the District of Columbia has the death rate continued to decline since 2010.

Moreover, a phenomenon most pronounced among whites in small cities and rural areas appears to be spreading to the nation's suburbs and biggest cities. Before 2010, death rates had been declining for whites, blacks and Hispanics in metropolitan areas of at least 1 million people. Since 2010, the rates are up everywhere.

"The data is very concerning," said Leandris Liburd, director of the CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. "We do not want to see death rates going up for any age, or any ethnic or racial group. The rise in mortality is likely due to multiple factors, and opioids are certainly a part of the problem."

One clear distinction remains: education level. The only 25-to-44 group whose death rate is not climbing is people with four-year college degrees.

"People with four-year degrees overall are doing fine in this economy, and everybody else overall is doing pretty poorly," said Joan C. Williams, a University of California law professor, author and scholar on work and class. "This whole large segment of society is seeing their grip on the American Dream slipping away."

Deaths from drug overdoses among whites are still more than double the rate for blacks, and are rising rapidly. But the data suggest that this is a contagion that will not recognize boundaries of race or ethnicity.

In Cuyahoga County, which encompasses Cleveland, coroner Thomas Gilson testified in the Senate last month that he has seen deaths double in one year among African Americans from fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, often taken in combination with cocaine.

"With seemingly purposeful intent, cocaine is now being mixed with fentanyl and its analogues in an effort to introduce these drugs into the African American population," Gilson testified.

"Fentanyl is playing a major driving force in increasing overdose deaths," said Michael Botticelli, director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center and the former head, under President Obama, of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Fentanyl is much more powerful than heroin or morphine. Often drug users don't know it's in their supply. It's increasingly fast acting. We know that the window of our opportunity to respond and resuscitate people is dramatically shortened."

Botticelli said dealers make a risk calculation when selling fentanyl or fentanyl-laced drugs: Addicts want the strongest drugs available, even if they are potentially fatal. He said a dealer arrested in Massachusetts had sent a text message to a colleague: "We don't want to kill them, we just want to bring them to that point."

The country is beginning to recognize the scale of the crisis, said Sharfstein, and turning to the question of how to fix it. But, he said, a criminal, judgmental or moral approach will block effective solutions.

"A really important barrier is to set aside ideology and say, 'This is killing our children. What can we do to make a real difference?'," he said. "In many parts of the country, there is not access to treatment that is effective for people, and in fact there is opposition to treatment that is effective for people. They say people should be put in jail."

A report in March, the 2017 County Health Rankings, produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also highlighted a rise between 2014 and 2015 in premature deaths among people ages 15 to 44 and the broad geographic and demographic spread of those deaths.

In modern times, increases in mortality have been rare. One of the most dramatic occurred during and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when the economy went into free-fall and anti-alcohol campaigns were abandoned. Life expectancy for men dropped precipitously.

National attention to rising death rates in the United States flared following a November 2015 study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who noted that whites in their midlife years (45 to 54) have been dying at surprisingly high rates since the end of the 20th century. Case and Deaton earlier this year said the "deaths of despair" from drug overdoses, alcohol abuse and suicide appear to be associated with the deteriorating labor market since the 1970s among people without a college degree.

Deaton, a Nobel laureate, said the bigger picture for America is "catastrophic." Death rates are supposed to go down, not up, he said. "A society where this is going the wrong way, there's something very, very seriously wrong with it."

Gay man says he's barred from Charlotte pride parade for backing Trump http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0113/170609595 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0113/170609595 Fri, 9 Jun 2017 09:05:48 -0400 By Peter Holley The Washington Post By By Peter Holley The Washington Post When he closes his eyes, Brian Talbert can see each detail of the float he had planned to build.

It was going to be 27 feet long, have "a bunch of American flags," a replica of the Statue of Liberty, "female impersonators" and the "most patriotic music anyone has ever heard."

The design would be so powerful, Talbert said, that nobody at the 2017 Charlotte Pride Parade would ever forget it.

"You were going to look at this float and be filled with pride for being an American," Talbert told The Washington Post.

Now it appears that Talbert - a fervent and openly gay supporter of President Donald Trump and a member of a group called Deplorable Pride - will not get to ride his float through downtown Charlotte in August. Charlotte Pride, one of the largest pride organizations in the southeastern United States, has rejected Deplorable Pride's float application three weeks after the group submitted it, Talbert claims.

Talbert said that his application was denied because he's an outspoken Trump supporter and that Charlotte Pride accused him of being "anti-gay," a charge he forcefully rejects.

"I can't wrap my head around that," said Talbert, who has a Trump-Pence bumper sticker on his truck. "I'm gay, I'm proud, I'm open and I'm Republican. I don't see how I was going to be anti-gay anything because that would be anti-me."

"I'll defend any gay person from anyone who wants to discriminate against them because I fight for acceptance and gay rights," he added.

Talbert said he plans to file a lawsuit against Charlotte Pride accusing the group of discrimination. He started a GoFundMe page this week to collect money for potential legal fees. In a single day, the page has raised more than $4,000 of its $100,000 goal.

Deplorable Pride labels itself "a movement" within the LGBT community that supported Trump's presidential campaign.

Reached by email, Charlotte Pride released a statement saying the organization "reserves the right to decline participation" at events to groups that do not reflect the mission and values of the organization.

The statement said that policy is acknowledged in its parade rules and regulations, and noted that in the past, organizers have made "similar decisions" to decline participation from "other organizations espousing anti-LGBTQ religious or public policy stances."

"Charlotte Pride envisions a world in which LGBTQ people are affirmed, respected, and included in the full social and civic life of their local communities, free from fear of any discrimination, rejection, and prejudice," the statement added.

Charlotte Pride did not respond to The Washington Post's request to clarify its decision and explain whether Talbert's application violated the organization's mission. The group's website said its annual festival attracts as many as 100,000 visitors.

The best-known conservative gay group remains the Log Cabin Republicans, which was formed in the late 1970s, according to the group's website.

"The name of the organization is a reference to the first Republican President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a Log Cabin," the site says. "President Lincoln built the Republican Party on the principles of liberty and equality."

The Trump administration began removing LGBT information from WhiteHouse.gov shortly after Trump took office, according to The Washington Post's Colby Itkowitz. The Trump administration has not acknowledged June as gay pride month, Newsweek reported.

Pride month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, a pivotal moment seen by many in the gay community as the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Talbert - a 47-year-old North Carolina native - said he was one of about 50 people who attended the first pride parade in Charlotte in 1994. He recalled that Christian demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at the marchers and that someone spit in his face. More than two decades later, he said, the discrimination continues - but this time it's being directed at him by the gay community.

Talbert said he feels betrayed because it shouldn't matter who you vote for.

"I want them to realize that they're doing the exact same thing they say bigoted people are doing to them - they're the oppressors now," he said. "It's disgusting, and every gay person in America should feel ashamed."

Sharp rise in African American opioid overdoses in Cleveland area http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0113/170609596 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170609/GZ0113/170609596 Fri, 9 Jun 2017 08:49:14 -0400 By Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs Special to The Washington Post By By Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs Special to The Washington Post CLEVELAND - The nation's opioid addiction crisis has largely been considered a problem for white people, many of whom have fallen prey to abuse of prescription painkillers and have migrated to fentanyl and heroin, often in rural areas such as Appalachia.

But in the communities around this Ohio metropolis on the southern shore of Lake Erie, there is evidence of a disturbing turn: Last year, 58 of Cuyahoga County's 399 fatal fentanyl overdoses were African Americans, killed by a synthetic opioid that is now responsible for almost two-thirds of the county's overall deadly overdoses. Officials believe the introduction of fentanyl and carfentanil - an extremely powerful animal tranquilizer - into the cocaine sold in the region is responsible for the rise in black overdose deaths.

That black overdoses in the Cleveland area are surging is a shocking outlier in the epidemic, alarming county medical examiner Thomas Gilson so much that he highlighted the deaths when testifying at a Senate hearing in May.

"The covert introduction of fentanyl into the cocaine supply has caused a rapid rise in fatalities, and in 2017, the rate of African American fentanyl related deaths has doubled from 2016," Gilson said.

Overdose deaths have been on the rise overall in Cuyahoga, and they are now seeing a major surge again, with a total of 43 fatal overdoses since Memorial Day, the medical examiner's office said Wednesday. But the rise in fentanyl-related deaths among black drug users has been particularly stunning, with a nearly 900 percent increase from 2014 to 2016.

Six African Americans in Cuyahoga died from fentanyl-related overdoses in 2014, and the toll was 24 in 2015. In 2016, 58 black people died from fentanyl-related drug use, and through the first half of this year, 50 have died. Gilson expects to see more than 125 victims by year's end.

Cuyahoga County's 52 municipalities include Cleveland and a host of suburbs, with a population of more than 1.2 million. The Cuyahoga River, which runs through the city's center, has defined the racial composition of the county: blacks live to the east while whites went west. The new drug trend is hitting African American neighborhoods on Cleveland's east side, as well as in relatively middle-class municipalities.

U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D, who represents parts of Cleveland and its east-side suburbs, recently reintroduced a bill in Washington that aims to break the addiction she has seen ravaging her district, with a focus on funding for treatment. As she sees hundreds of her constituents overdosing, she believes talking about the problem isn't enough.

"We have to find a way to get some control over the sales of fentanyl" and "find out where it's coming from," Fudge said in an interview, noting that many people - especially in black communities - don't know what the drug is or that it could be laced into other drugs. "We have to start to educate people . . . who are less educated about the drugs, who have less resources and who tend to be treated at a lower rate."

Cleveland, which is predominantly African American, is now experiencing the spikes in overdoses that have dogged the majority white suburbs, said former police chief William M. Denihan, who also is chief executive of the county's Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, which coordinates mental health, addiction and recovery services.

"We always looked at this as a Cleveland suburb problem," Denihan said. "But now the numbers are reversing themselves."

The most common journey to opioid addiction begins when users get hooked on a prescription drug. When pills becomes too costly or inaccessible, abusers look for a substitute they can purchase on the illicit market.

"It's more predictable to see somebody transition from oxycodone to heroin to fentanyl because they have similar effects," Gilson said. "If you're addicted to opioids and your biggest determinant is economics, whatever one of those three is cheapest is probably what you're going gravitate towards."

But that's not the pathway black overdose victims are following. Gilson believes drug dealers have been lacing their cocaine product with opioids, creating something that will attract new customers and addict them, sustaining their sales. Gilson said the county's African Americans are more likely to use cocaine than heroin, which he believes explains the sudden surge in overdoses.

In 2016, pure cocaine killed 85 people, 49 of whom were African Americans. Heroin killed 72 people, six of whom were black.

"According to our latest data, cocaine deaths by themselves are the only deaths where we have a majority of African Americans. All of the other deaths that we're seeing, the majority is white," Gilson said. "I think it's very reasonable for drug dealers to say, 'We have this untapped market that is something we could reach out into with fentanyl as well.' "

Mixing an opioid with cocaine isn't new, said Ted Parran, an addiction expert and the co-medical director of Rosary Hall, one of the county's oldest inpatient facilities for substance abusers. He noted the cocaine and heroin combination known as "speed balls" that gained popularity in the 1990s.

"During previous opiate epidemics, dealers began to tell people to use cocaine with your opiates, and that way, you'll get the opiate high, but the cocaine will kick in and you'll get the euphoria of the stimulant," Parran said.

Authorities believe dealers are adding fentanyl to cocaine for that very reason, because it makes the drug's effects stronger and addicts want the strongest version they can buy. Imprecision in the mix - or a user being unfamiliar with the new version of the drug - can be fatal.

The new cocaine-fentanyl mix is inherently deadlier than the cocaine-heroin mix from decades past because fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, and carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration. And just a tiny amount of the powerful opioids can be catastrophic.

"If a person is buying $10 worth of heroin, and there are the equivalent of 10 grains of salt worth of carfentanil, there's a good chance that the user is going to have an overdose," Parran said.

Parran said it makes sense that the medical examiner was the first to notice how cocaine and fentanyl were being combined because recovering cocaine addicts usually submit to a toxicology screen that would overlook fentanyl.

"The patient who thinks they just have cocaine problem, they get a tox screen that shows cocaine, but is negative for opiates," he said. "Heroin shows up, but fentanyl, you have to check for because it disappears so fast."

He and others fear overdose rates will skyrocket while the county tries to get its arms around this new aspect of its addiction crisis.

"We're losing the game. We're not winning this war," Denihan said. "We have to stop and look at everything we're doing and try to make it significantly different."

Manchin calls Comey allegations 'extremely troubling' http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170608/GZ0113/170609610 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170608/GZ0113/170609610 Thu, 8 Jun 2017 19:24:35 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called a recently fired FBI director's allegation that President Donald Trump asked him to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser "extremely troubling."

Manchin, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to comment on whether he considers the actions to be an obstruction of justice. However, he said former FBI director James Comey's statement Thursday that Trump had said he hoped Comey could "let this go" after asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior adviser Jared Kushner to leave the room is concerning.

"That's extremely troubling, totally inappropriate, just very troubling that something like that would be done," Manchin said. "It's obvious that there was something that he wanted to ask or talk about or speak about that he wanted nobody involved in. To ask the attorney general, the head law enforcement agent over everybody, to leave, and ask a person who works under him to stay, that's a concern for everybody."

Comey went on to assert that White House officials lied and attempted to defame him in their explanation of his firing.

The White House pushed back against Comey's testimony. In a statement, Marc Kasowitz, Trump's personal lawyer, denied any conversation took place about dropping the Flynn investigation.

"The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that Mr. Comey 'let Flynn go,' " he said.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also denied the claim, saying "the president is not a liar."

When asked if he feels the American public can believe Trump is telling the truth when he speaks, Manchin largely avoided answering the question. However, he said the president has credibility issues in the wake of the numerous investigations surrounding his campaign and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"There is a cloud right now, I'll be the first to say it, and that cloud needs to be cleared up," he said.

Manchin declined to answer the original question outright.

In a statement emailed to reporters, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., knocked committee members as grandstanding and stopped just short of calling Comey a liar.

"This investigation needs to be led by the facts, not politicians more focused on grabbing headlines and soundbites," he said. "James Comey had clearly lost the trust of people in both parties, as well as that of the president himself."

In a statement made to WSAZ, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., called Comey's allegations "troubling," although not "explosive."

One key piece of the story that emerged in Comey's testimony is his admission that he organized the leak of memos containing his recollections of Trump's request he let go of the Flynn investigation. Comey said he did so after Trump tweeted a vague hint that he might have taped the conversations, and as a kickstarter to the appointment of a special prosecutor on the matter.

Manchin boiled down the action to raw self-preservation.

"I think there was self-preservation going on by the FBI director, trying to preserve himself when he's getting beat up directly from the Twitter comments by the president," Manchin said. "[Comey] clarified that's why he documented everything from day one. It's unusual and it's disheartening for that person to feel that from the first time they hear from a new administration."

In his testimony, Comey said he took detailed notes of all his conversations with Trump over concern that Trump might lie or distort what was said or done.

After the public hearing, the committee reconvened in private for Comey to answer questions he said he could not answer publicly, such as questions regarding the numerous investigations into how much sway Russia had - or has - over U.S. politics.

Although Manchin declined to go into specifics, citing security clearance concerns, he said Comey answered all the questions in private that he could not answer at the public hearing.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

Jenkins: Trump budget pulls plug on abandoned mine development project http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170608/GZ0101/170609618 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170608/GZ0101/170609618 Thu, 8 Jun 2017 18:12:02 -0400 Rick Steelhammer By Rick Steelhammer A $90 million pilot project designed to put displaced coal miners back to work cleaning up and re-purposing abandoned mine sites in West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania will not be continued under President Trump's proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year, according to Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va.

Jenkins is a member of the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee, before which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified on Thursday on budget matters.

"I am very concerned that the president's budget did not fund the continuation of this pilot that [House Appropriations Committee] Chairman Hal Rogers and I have shepherded over the past two years, bringing tens of millions of dollars to previously coal-mined properties," Jenkins said in a conference call with reporters after the hearing.

Money used for the pilot project came from a fund now containing about $2 billion, mainly from fees paid by mine operators on the tonnage of coal they extract. The fund, administered by the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, was established to finance reclamation of coal mines abandoned before 1977, when stricter reclamation standards were enacted.

The pilot project, approved in 2015, channeled $30 million to each of the three states. In West Virginia, it provided:

n $12 million to develop an industrial park near the Interstate 77-64 split in Beckley through a partnership between Beaver Coal Company and the West Virginia Army National Guard, in which the Guard would become the park's first tenant and use the site as a repair facility for Humvees and other vehicles and equipment.

n $5.3 million to convert 500 acres of former mine land along the Clay-Nicholas County border into a orchard containing 100,000 golden delicious apple trees through a partnership between the West Virginia National Guard, the Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia State University Extension Services, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ERP Compliant Fuels and Pardee Natural Resources. The project calls for hiring displaced miners and veterans.

n $4.1 million to expand municipal water service from the Danese Public Service District to new customers in the Highland Mountain and Crickmer Road areas of Fayette County.

n $3.6 million for development of an aquaponics farm near Kermit in Mingo County to produce sustainable, commercial quantities of fish and vegetables. That project also envisions using displaced workers and is a partnership between the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, the Coalfield Development Corporation and Refresh Appalachia.

Jenkins said money has already been allocated to complete those projects, but the president's budget provides no funding to expand the program elsewhere.

"There is a high level of support for this program," Jenkins said. "We are going to do our darnedest to make sure it is funded."

WV among states connected to software Russia might have targeted http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170608/GZ01/170609639 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170608/GZ01/170609639 Thu, 8 Jun 2017 08:53:40 -0400 By Emery P. Dalesio and Geoff Mulvihill The Associated Press By By Emery P. Dalesio and Geoff Mulvihill The Associated Press RALEIGH, N.C. - Officials in some states are trying to figure out whether local election offices were targeted in an apparent effort by Russian military intelligence to hack into election software last fall.

The efforts were detailed in a recently leaked report attributed to the U.S. National Security Agency.

North Carolina is checking on whether any local systems were breached, while the revelation prompted an election security review in Virginia. Both are considered presidential battleground states.

In Illinois, officials are trying to determine which election offices used software from the contractor that the report said was compromised.

The three are among eight states where election offices had contracts with VR Systems, a Florida-based company that provided software to manage voter registrations. The others are Florida, California, Indiana, New York and West Virginia.

The report, dated last month, asserts that hackers obtained information from company employees and used that to send phishing emails to 122 local election officials just before the election last November in an attempt to break into their systems.

So far, there is no indication that voting or ballot counting in any states were affected. Officials in at least five counties in Florida - a key political swing state - received the emails, the Miami Herald reported. It's not clear where else the emails may have been sent.

But the revelation, published by the online news outlet The Intercept, set off questions in the states where VR provides software.

North Carolina state elections board director Kim Westbrook Strach said her office had not been contacted by any federal officials about whether any of the 21 county election offices that use VR software were targeted. Still, her office was contacting county boards about potential breaches.

The news of a reported Russian hacking attempt surprised Bill Brian, elections board chairman in Durham County, which experienced problems with VR Systems' electronic poll books on Election Day. The issue forced officials to abandon the system, issue paper ballots and extend voting hours, but officials there said that trouble did not appear to have been caused by hacking.

"We have not had any big, 'Uh oh, we've got a problem with computers,'" said Brian, a Republican.

In Virginia, state Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortes, said he could not comment on whether any local officials were targeted by the phishing emails, but he said he was not aware of any breaches. Still, the disclosure of the NSA document has prompted a review of election security, he said.

There also is no indication to date of the reported Russian attempt "resulting in any contact with local election officials in West Virginia," said Steven Adams, spokesman for the secretary of state.

In some states, VR software was used in only a handful of voting jurisdictions.

New York election officials said just four counties used the software last year and that federal authorities had not contacted the state about any of them being targeted.

California officials said only Humboldt County, in the far northern part of the state, used VR software during last year's election. Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, declined to say if the office was investigating whether the county was targeted.

So far, Humboldt County has found no evidence that anyone in the elections office received the phishing emails, County Clerk Kelly Sanders said. The county used the software to sign in voters.

Illinois officials have asked local elections offices whether they used VR's software in 2016. By midday Wednesday, only one county said it had.

Last September, the Department of Homeland Security told the AP that hackers believed to be Russian agents had targeted voter registration systems in more than 20 states. No evidence of tampering emerged in the worst-hit state, Illinois. Hackers who penetrated its network with a method called SQL injection spent three weeks rooting around before they were discovered in July. Officials said nothing was added, changed or deleted.

The general counsel for the Illinois state elections board, Ken Menzel, said the state cooperated with the FBI and other federal authorities in the investigation but was not told who might have been responsible. He said the intrusion had been traced to some servers in the Netherlands and he heard speculation of Russian involvement.

"The feds did not see fit to enlighten us to the extent that the feds know more than that," he said. "That wasn't part of our need-to-know."

Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State, whose members oversee elections in several states, said the group wants to know why federal officials did not warn potential victims at the time the attacks were allegedly happening.

Stimson said that with more specific information that breaches were possible, states could have offered help to local election officials and created firewalls to make sure any local problems would not have caused problems at the state level.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.

Ex-FBI chief Comey to tell Congress Trump asked him to "lift the cloud" of Russia inquiry http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170607/GZ0113/170609642 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170607/GZ0113/170609642 Wed, 7 Jun 2017 21:15:41 -0400 By Eric Tucker and Julie Pace The Associated Press By By Eric Tucker and Julie Pace The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Former FBI director James Comey will testify today that President Donald Trump sought his "loyalty" and asked what could be done to "lift the cloud" of investigation over his White House, according to prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance on Capitol Hill.

Comey will also tell lawmakers that he told Trump he was not personally under investigation, validating the president's previous claims that he was not the target of the probe into his campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Comey will say that the FBI and Justice Department were reluctant to state that publicly "because it would create a duty to correct, should that change."

Comey's testimony will be his first public comments since Trump fired him on May 9. The seven-page remarks released Wednesday reveal in dramatic detail, and with a writer's flair, Comey's uneasiness with Trump, who he believed was disregarding the FBI's traditional independence from the White House.

Until his firing, Comey oversaw the federal investigation into possible collusion between Trump's associates and Russia. Trump's firing of Comey outraged Democrats, who believe Trump was improperly trying to halt a probe that has hung over his presidency since his first day in office.

The former director's testimony reportedly is based on written memos of his interactions with Trump, some of which he says he shared with senior FBI leadership. Comey describes a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office in which he believed Trump asked him if he could drop any investigation of fired national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States.

"He then said, 'I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,"' Comey says in his prepared remarks. "I replied only that 'he is a good guy."'

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was unsure if the president had reviewed Comey's testimony.

Asked if the president stood by earlier assertions that he had neither sought Comey's loyalty nor asked for the Flynn investigation to be dropped, she said: "I can't imagine the president not standing by his own statement."

Sanders referred specific questions to Trump's outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, who did not respond to inquiries Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Trump announced that he planned to nominate Christopher Wray, a former Justice Department official, as Comey's successor. FBI directors are nominated to 10-year terms.

Comey's testimony was released by the Senate Intelligence Committee hours after lawmakers sparred with top intelligence chiefs who refused to answer the panel's questions about conversations they had with Trump regarding the Russia probe.

Intelligence Committee members wanted to know about news reports claiming Trump had asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly state that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Coats and Rogers would not answer questions about their conversations with the president, citing the openness of the public hearing.

However, they did say they felt no pressure from the White House.

"In my three-plus-years I have as director of the NSA, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate," Rogers said. "And, to the best my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to doing so."

Coats said: "In my time of service, which is interacting with the president of the United States or anybody in this administration, I have never been pressured. I haven't ever felt pressured to intervene or interfered in anyway in shaping intelligence in a political way."

Trump allies have sought to undermine Comey's credibility ahead of his testimony, noting that the FBI had to correct some of his remarks from his last appearance on Capitol Hill. They've also questioned why Comey did not raise his concerns about Trump publicly or resign.

Among the encounters Comey describes is a Jan. 27 dinner at the White House that he viewed as an attempt by the president to "create some sort of patronage relationship."

According to Comey, Trump asked if he wanted to remain as FBI director and declared: "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Comey says he replied that he could offer his honesty, and that, when Trump said he wanted "honest loyalty," Comey paused and said, "You will get that from me."

In March, after Comey had publicly revealed the existence of a federal counterintelligence investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump complained that the probe had left a "cloud" that was "impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country."

It was during that conversation that Comey said the president asked him what could be done to "lift the cloud" of investigation that was damaging his administration.

Comey says Trump also said "he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia" - referencing an unverified intelligence dossier detailing compromising information Moscow allegedly had collected on the president.

The White House initially said Trump fired Comey on the recommendation of the Justice Department, citing as justification a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that criticized Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump later said he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he fired Comey and would have dismissed him without the Justice Department's input.

Comey said his practice of keeping written meeting records began after his encounter with Trump before the inauguration. He said he did not keep records of the two private, in-person interactions he had with then-President Barack Obama between the time he took the helm at the FBI in September 2013 and the end of the 44th president's tenure. Comey describes nine one-on-one conversations with Trump in four months.

Morrisey 'seriously considering' Senate run; Manchin to seek re-election http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170606/GZ0101/170609738 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170606/GZ0101/170609738 Tue, 6 Jun 2017 18:23:32 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman On the heels of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announcing late last week that he would seek another term, West Virginia's attorney general is testing the waters in the 2018 race.

Republican A.G. Patrick Morrisey issued a news release Tuesday announcing that he is "seriously considering" running for Manchin's seat.

"Over the next two months, I intend to make a decision about whether I should pursue the U.S. Senate seat in 2018," he said. "We have accomplished incredible things out of the Attorney General's Office. Now it's time to explore whether I can help West Virginia even more from a position in the U.S. Senate."

In his release, Morrisey, who won re-election to his post last year, voiced some of his leading conservative issues, such as scrapping environmental regulations, rolling back amnesty programs for undocumented immigrants, challenging women's rights to abortions and protecting citizens' rights to bear arms.

He also picked up where last year's campaign against Democratic challenger Doug Reynolds left off, leveraging attacks on former President Barack Obama and unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, barbs likely to be repeated throughout the campaign, despite the fact that neither holds public office now.

Although the release came Tuesday, signs of a Morrisey candidacy have been apparent since the launch of his Super PAC's website in early May, rife with cartoon-like jabs at Manchin and Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who also is running against Manchin and would be Morrisey's opponent in the Republican primary next year.

Morrisey first ran for public office in a 2000 congressional race, in New Jersey's 7th District, losing in the primaries by a wide margin.

Throughout his tenure as attorney general, controversy has dogged Morrisey - from his ties to pharmaceutical companies that he and his wife have lobbied for to his involvement in lawsuits against those companies he was said to have recused himself from to his active fights against Planned Parenthood while his wife lobbies for the organization.

No one behind the Morrisey email account that was used to issue Tuesday's release responded to an interview request for this report.

The timing of this quasi-announcement could point to a fundraising strategy. Congressional candidates must publicly disclose their campaign contributions through the Federal Election Commission on a quarterly basis.

Given his decision to consider over the "next two months," Morrisey could begin fundraising just after the FEC's June 30 book-closing deadline, to make sure he has a strong fundraising quarter in the first month of his candidacy as a momentum-builder.

Along with Jenkins, Morrisey would face laid-off coal miner Bo Copley in the primary, who came to fame when he publicly rebuked comments Clinton made regarding coal on the campaign trail.

Activist Paula Jean Swearengin also has announced plans to enter the race, as a primary challenge from Manchin's left.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

Five killed by 'disgruntled' ex-employee in Orlando workplace shooting http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170605/GZ0113/170609794 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170605/GZ0113/170609794 Mon, 5 Jun 2017 13:59:16 -0400 By Lindsey Bever and Mark Berman The Washington Post By By Lindsey Bever and Mark Berman The Washington Post A gunman fatally shot five employees at an Orlando, Florida, business Monday and then killed himself, authorities said during a morning news conference.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said the shooter, identified by police as a 45-year-old former "disgruntled employee" who was terminated in April, opened fire on former co-workers at Fiamma Inc., which manufacturers accessories for recreational vehicles in an industrial area more than seven miles from downtown Orlando.

The shooter, who was carrying a gun and a knife, committed suicide, Demings said. The sheriff said that there were seven survivors in the attack.

"We have no indication that this subject is a participant in any type of terror organization," Demings said during the news conference. "What this is at this point is likely a workplace violence incident."

Demings said sheriff's deputies received a 911 call about 8 a.m. about an active shooter situation and, when they arrived on the scene, they found four deceased victims - three men and a woman. A fifth victim was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he also died, the sheriff said. The sheriff said that the gunman had died "by his own means."

Demings said that several years ago, the shooter, whose name has not been released, was accused of battering another employee at Fiamma. He has a criminal history that includes DUI and marijuana possession, the sheriff said.

After the early morning shooting, Shelley Adams told reporters her sister, who works at Fiamma was in the restroom when she heard a bang. When she came out, she saw someone on the floor.

Adams said her sister told her, "My boss is dead. My boss is dead."

Authorities said earlier on Twitter that the situation was "contained," and deputies were "investigating tragic incident & will soon have accurate information."

Orange County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jane Watrel said in an email that deputies were on the scene and that there was "no threat to the community."

The FBI dispatched members of the bureau's Orlando office to the scene, where they are assisting in the investigation and working to determine the motivation, officials said.

Authorities did not immediately comment on a possible motive for the shooting, which occurred just a week before the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre in downtown Orlando. That mass shooting killed 49 people and injured dozens of others. The attacker at Pulse, who was killed by police after an hours-long standoff inside the club, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

"Because of the active nature of the investigation, we can't comment on any motives at this time, but if a nexus to terrorism is discovered, we'll update with that information as appropriate," the FBI said in a statement Monday. "We'll be working with Orange County to determine the reason for the shooting."

Hospitals in the area did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether they had taken in any of the victims from the shooting.

After the shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked residents across the state to pray for the families affected "by this senseless act of violence."

"Over the past year, the Orlando community has been challenged like never before," Scott said in a statement. "I have been briefed by our law enforcement officials on this tragic incident and Ann and I are praying for the families who lost loved ones today."

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said, "Unfortunately, we've seen this scenario play itself out in our community and in other communities across the nation, and it is incumbent upon all of us not to become complacent or become callous to these horrific situations, but for each of our citizens to be vigilant . . . if they see something that seems abnormal, they need to say something."

Why aren't American teenagers working anymore? http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170605/GZ0113/170609799 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170605/GZ0113/170609799 Mon, 5 Jun 2017 10:19:00 -0400 By Ben Steverman Bloomberg By By Ben Steverman Bloomberg This summer American teenagers should find it a little easier to get a job-if they want one.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in May, the lowest in 16 years, so teens started looking for summer jobs in the best labor market since the tech boom of the early 2000s. The May unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 14.3 percent, but teens usually find it harder to find jobs than their more experienced elders. Back in 2009, the teenage jobless rate hit 27 percent.

A CareerBuilder survey of 2,587 employers released last month found that 41 percent were planning to hire seasonal workers for the summer, up from 29 percent last year.

But the unemployment rate measures joblessness only among people who are actively looking for work. And many American teens aren't.

For Baby Boomers and Generation X, the summer job was a rite of passage. Today's teenagers have other priorities. Teens are likeliest to be working in July, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that's not seasonally adjusted. In July of last year, 43 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were either working or looking for a job. That's 10 points lower than in July 2006. In 1988 and 1989, the July labor force participation rate for teenagers nearly hit 70 percent.

Whether you're looking at summer jobs or at teen employment year-round, the work trends for teenagers show a clear pattern over the last three decades. When recessions hit, in the early 1990s, early 2000s, and from 2007 to 2009, teen labor participation rates plunge. As the economy recovers, though, teen labor doesn't bounce back. The BLS expects the teen labor force participation rate to drop below 27 percent in 2024, or 30 points lower than the peak seasonally adjusted rate in 1989.

Why aren't teens working? Lots of theories have been offered: They're being crowded out of the workforce by older Americans, now working past 65 at the highest rates in more than 50 years. Immigrants are competing with teens for jobs; a 2012 study found that less educated immigrants affected employment for U.S. native-born teenagers far more than for native-born adults.

Parents are pushing kids to volunteer and sign up for extracurricular activities instead of working, to impress college admission counselors. College-bound teens aren't looking for work because the money doesn't go as far as it used to. "Teen earnings are low and pay little toward the costs of college," the BLS noted this year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Elite private universities charge tuition of more than $50,000.

Or maybe, as cranky old people have asserted for generations, teenagers are just getting lazy.

A recent BLS analysis offers another theory, backed up by solid data. It appears that millions of teenagers aren't working because they're studying instead.

Over the last few decades, education has taken up more of teenagers' time, as school districts lengthen both the school day and the academic year. During the school year, academic loads have gotten heavier. Education is also eating up teenagers' summers. Teens aren't going to summer school just because they failed a class and need to catch up. They're also enrolling in enrichment courses and taking courses for college credit.

In July of last year, more than two in five 16- to 19-year-olds were enrolled in school. That's four times times as many as were enrolled in 1985, BLS data show.

Students have more to learn in their four years of high school. In 1982, fewer than one in 10 high school graduates had completed at least four years of English classes, three years of math, science, and social science, and two years of a foreign language. By 2009, the most recent data in the U.S. Digest of Education Statistics, the share of grads taking those classes was almost 62 percent.

High school students aren't just taking more classes. They're taking tougher ones. What's happened in math reflects trends in other areas. Calculus is up threefold since the early 1980s, while precalculus is up more than fivefold, and statistics and probability courses are up tenfold. Almost a million students graduated in 2009 having taken an advanced placement (AP) class, up 39 percent from four years earlier.

All this studying has obvious benefits, but a single-minded focus on education has disadvantages, too. A summer job can help teenagers grow up as it expands their experience beyond school and home. Working teens learn how to manage money, deal with bosses, and get along with co-workers of all ages.

A summer job can even save lives. In a study released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers analyzed the effects of two Chicago programs providing students with part-time jobs along with mentors for the summer. The programs had little apparent effect on the teens' later employment or education-a big concern in itself-but arrests for violent crime plunged, by 42 percent for one program and 33 percent for the other, an effect felt for at least a year after the programs ended. If teens got nothing else out of the jobs programs, the researchers suggested, they were at least "learning to better avoid or manage conflict."

Police arrest 12 after night of terror in heart of London http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170604/GZ01/170609810 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170604/GZ01/170609810 Sun, 4 Jun 2017 20:24:49 -0400 By Danica Kirka, Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz The Associated Press By By Danica Kirka, Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz The Associated Press LONDON - British police arrested a dozen people Sunday in a widening terrorism investigation after attackers using a van and large knives turned a balmy evening of nightlife into a bloodbath and killed seven people in London.

Although the attackers were also dead, authorities raced to determine whether others assisted them, and Prime Minister Theresa May warned that the country faced a new threat from copycat terrorist attacks.

The county's major political parties temporarily suspended campaigning with only days to go before the general election. May said the vote would take place as scheduled Thursday because "violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process."

The assault unfolded over a few terrifying minutes late Saturday, starting when a rented van veered off the road and barreled into pedestrians on busy London Bridge. Three men then got out of the vehicle with large knives and attacked people at bars and restaurants in nearby Borough Market until they were shot dead by police.

"They went, 'This is for Allah,' and they had a woman on the floor. They were stabbing her," witness Gerard Vowls said.

Florin Morariu, a Romanian chef who works in the Bread Ahead bakery, said he saw people running and some fainting. Then two people approached another person and "began to stick the knife in ... and then I froze, and I didn't know what to do."

He said he managed to get near one attacker and "hit him around the head" with a bread basket.

"There was a car with a loudspeaker saying 'go, go' and [police] threw a grenade. ... and then I ran," he said.

London police said officers killed the attackers within eight minutes of arriving at the scene. Eight officers fired some 50 rounds, said Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the force's head of counterterrorism.

The three attackers were wearing what appeared to be suicide belts, but the belts turned out to be fake. Investigators were working to determine whether others assisted them, Rowley said.

A bystander was also wounded by the gunfire, but the civilian's injuries were not believed to be critical.

Forty-eight people, including two police officers, were treated at hospitals. Twenty-one remained in critical condition Sunday. Among the wounded were German, French and Spanish citizens, officials said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a Canadian was among the dead. A French national was also confirmed dead.

Counterterrorism officers raided several addresses in Barking, an east London suburb, and arrested 12 people there Sunday, police said.

Neighbors at the site of one raid in Barking said a man who lived there resembled one of the attackers shown in news photographs.

"He's lived here for about three years," Damien Pettit said. "He's one of our neighbors. I've said hello in passing more than 50, 60 occasions. He has two young kids. He was a very nice guy."

Armed officers also conducted a raid in the East Ham area of the city. Video showed police shouting at someone: "Get on the balcony. Stand up and show us your hands!"

The rampage was the third major attack in Britain in the past three months, including a similar vehicle and knife attack on Westminster Bridge in March that left five people dead.

On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured dozens at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, in northwest England. Grande and other stars performed Sunday night at a benefit concert for victims under tight security in Manchester.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Manchester bombing, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the London attack, which the prime minister linked to Islamic extremism.

May said the attacks were not directly connected, "but we believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face" as "terrorism breeds terrorism" and attackers copy one another. She said five credible plots have been disrupted since March.

"It is time to say, enough is enough," she said.

Britain's official terrorism threat level was raised from "severe" to "critical" after the Manchester attack, meaning an attack may be imminent. Several days later it was lowered again to "severe," meaning an attack is highly likely.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Sunday the level would remain at severe because police believe there are no perpetrators still on the loose.

London Bridge and a large area on the south bank of the River Thames remained cordoned off Sunday, and police told people to avoid the area.

Hours earlier, the area packed with bars and restaurants around the foodie magnet of Borough Market had been a scene of panic, as people barricaded themselves in pubs and restaurants or fled through the streets.

Medics treated the wounded near the market as shocked people cried and shouted around them. Police officers yelled at people to run from the area, and blasts were heard as officers performed a series of controlled explosions.

Renan Marquese, a sous-chef at a tapas restaurant, said he was working when he heard chaotic sounds outside.

"When I open the door, I see three dead people on the floor," he said. "People running everywhere, police shouting to run away."

He said he helped a man and his partner, even taking the woman into his arms because she was too upset to walk properly. He said it took him 20 minutes to carry her across the bridge, stumbling all the way.

"It was really scary," he said.

Amid the violence and fear were stories of compassion and heroism. The British Transport Police said one of their officers, among the first to arrive, took the attackers on armed only with his baton and was seriously wounded. He was later described as being in stable condition with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Witnesses described how passers-by threw chairs and beer glasses at the attackers in an attempt to stop them.

Richard Angell, who was in a restaurant, said he looked out and saw "a guy who is throwing a table at somebody, and it's very unclear about what is happening. And it turns out to be a heroic guy who saw what was happening and just bombarded these terrible cowardly people with stuff."

Vowls also saw people striking back at the attackers and said he joined in.

"I went, 'Oi, terrorists, cowards, Oi!'" he told The Associated Press. Then he picked up a chair.

"I chucked it, but I think I missed one of them, and then I picked up a stool, and I threw it at him. And he looked at me. He started running towards me, and then he decided not to.

"Then I was screaming at them, picking up bottles from a beer barrel. I was just throwing it at them, trying to get them to chase me so I could get them out into the main road where the police could see them and obviously take them down."

Criticism ramps up against Trump over decision to quit Paris treaty http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170602/GZ0113/170609873 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170602/GZ0113/170609873 Fri, 2 Jun 2017 22:53:41 -0400 By Lorne Cook and Angela Charlton The Associated Press By By Lorne Cook and Angela Charlton The Associated Press PARIS - A Malian cattle herder, German environmental activists, leaders from Mexico to China - they're among millions on Friday denouncing President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

Many nations pledged to ramp up their efforts to curb global warming instead.

Some allies pointedly refrained from criticism, however, and Russian President Vladimir Putin even joked that Trump's move made him a convenient scapegoat for any bad weather.

While Trump argued that the 2015 accord hurts U.S. jobs and business, others took a more global view. The French president's call to #MakeOur PlanetGreatAgain went viral online, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it's time to look ahead.

"This decision can't and won't stop all those of us who feel obliged to protect the planet," she said. "On the contrary. We in Germany, Europe and the world will combine our forces more resolutely than ever to address and successfully tackle challenges for humanity such as climate change."

Merkel, whose country hosts this year's international climate summit, called Trump's decision "extremely regrettable, and that's putting it very mildly."

Greenpeace activists projected Trump's silhouette onto the side of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin along with the words "#TotalLoser, so sad!"

In what could herald a tilt away from trans-Atlantic ties, European and Chinese officials joined to affirm their commitment to the Paris agreement, widely considered a landmark deal for bringing together almost all countries under a common goal.

European Council chief Donald Tusk, after meeting with visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Brussels, said the EU and China "are convinced that yesterday's decision by the United States to leave the Paris agreement is a big mistake."

Referring to "the latest unfortunate decisions of the new administration," Tusk said that the EU and China had "demonstrated solidarity with future generations."

Trump said the United States would be willing to rejoin the accord if it could obtain more favorable terms, but the leaders of France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement that the agreement cannot be renegotiated.

Scientists blame manmade global warming for rising seas and increasing extreme weather. In the African country of Mali, many see global warming as the reason for a protracted drought.

In Mali's northern city of Timbuktu, 23-year-old Sididi Ould Batna has already lost a dozen cattle.

"The drought has become so severe that my animals are eating the branches of dried trees," he told The Associated Press on Friday. "I would tell Trump that, here, the misery is caused by climate change and, if he doesn't pay attention, the United States will be touched one day by these problems, too."

Fanta Coulibaly, 65, who sells vegetables in Mali's capital, Bamako, remembers when there was enough rain this time of year.

"Our rainy season used to start at the beginning of May, but now it's the end of June, sometimes July, before the rains come regularly. The climate agreement gives me hope, and I ask Trump to think of us."

Poor countries are predicted to be among the hardest hit by global warming, with some foreseeing tens of millions of "climate refugees" in coming decades.

South Africa called the U.S. pullout "an abdication of global responsibility." It said the United States has a "moral obligation" to support poorer countries in the effort against climate change.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said on Twitter that Trump is "declaring war on the planet itself."

Environmental activists in Bosnia, one of the poorest European countries, said they are worried that Trump's move will empower global polluters.

But activist Samir Lemes, of the Eko Forum group in the industrial town of Zenica, voiced hope the "unfortunate decision" would energize environmental protection efforts. "This [decision] is an accident our planet had been made to suffer, but it should be used to raise global awareness," he said.

In Paris, where the agreement was reached after painstaking negotiations, President Emmanuel Macron encouraged an American brain drain, inviting U.S. climate scientists to move to France.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo insisted that clean energy is already creating jobs and boosting economies, contrary to Trump's claims, and called him "a representative of a world gone by, a world that is looking back in the rear-view mirror and does not see what is happening today."

She shrugged off Trump's remark that he was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris.

"He must be the only person on the planet who doesn't like Paris," Hidalgo joked.

Other world leaders were more reticent in their criticism, either out of domestic concerns or because they don't want to alienate the United States as an important ally.

Putin, speaking at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, avoided criticizing Trump and noted that the Paris accord offers broad maneuvering room for each signatory nation.

He joked that Trump's move made him a convenient person to blame for any bad weather, including wet snow in Moscow on Friday.

"Now, we can dump it all on him and American imperialism," Putin said.

India, a major polluter and a growing economy, has kept mum on whether the U.S. decision will affect its energy policy, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi - who is going to Paris today to meet Macron - offered no reaction to Trump's decision.

The Paris accord aims to prevent average temperature around the world from heating up by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of the century, compared to before the start of the industrial age.

Scientists say every fraction of a degree change in average temperatures can lead to noticeable swings in local weather patterns, although consequences are difficult to predict.

How the opioid crisis traces back to a five-sentence letter from 1980 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170602/GZ0113/170609920 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170602/GZ0113/170609920 Fri, 2 Jun 2017 10:37:18 -0400 By Derek Hawkins The Washington Post By By Derek Hawkins The Washington Post Long before opioid abuse exploded into a public health crisis, before drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives and ruined countless others, one respected Boston University doctor had a question he wanted answered.

How often, Dr. Hershel Jick wondered, do hospital patients grow addicted to their narcotic pain treatments?

To find out, Hershel and his assistant, a graduate student named Jane Porter, reviewed troves of hospital records. Their conclusions were optimistic: Out of nearly 12,000 hospital patients treated with such painkillers, just four had become addicted. Only one was considered severe. They wrote up the good news in a one-paragraph, five-sentence letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

"We conclude," read the letter, "that despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction."

That was in January 1980. Over the following decades, the letter was invoked by doctors, academics, pharmaceutical companies and others as evidence that few users would develop addictions and that liberal prescription was justified. Of course, the analysis proved nothing of the sort, nor did it set out to. But the widely misread letter - now so well known it's been nicknamed "Porter and Jick" - has been blamed for fueling the opioid epidemic.

On Wednesday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a note from four Canadian researchers that shows the true scope of the letter's influence, in what may be a first for the academic journal. The authors, led by Pamela T.M. Leung of the University of Toronto, found that "Porter and Jick" had been cited 608 times by other scholars - often inaccurately and uncritically.

Nearly 500 articles neglected to note that the letter concerned only hospitalized patients whose treatments were overseen by medical staff, rather than people prescribed take-home painkillers for, say, arthritis or minor injuries, the researchers found. A majority of the articles also cited the letter as evidence that addiction was rare in patients who took opioids. Other articles "grossly misrepresented" the letter's findings, Leung and her team wrote.

"We believe that this citation pattern contributed to the North American opioid crisis by helping to shape a narrative that allayed prescribers' concerns about the risk of addiction associated with long-term opioid therapy," read the note which, like "Porter and Jick," appeared in the journal's letter to the editor section.

"The crisis arose in part because physicians were told that the risk of addiction was low when opioids were prescribed for chronic pain," it read. "Our findings highlight the potential consequences of inaccurate citation and underscore the need for diligence when citing previously published studies."

Some of the articles that cited "Porter and Jick" wildly inflated its conclusions, according to Leung and her team. "This pain population with no abuse history is literally at no risk for addiction," read one 1998 article. "Medical opioid addiction is very rare," read another from 2002.

If those claims sound ridiculous now, in 2017, it's because they are. More than 183,000 people have died in the United States from prescription opioid overdoses since 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Millions of other Americans struggle with painkiller addiction.

For Jick, who is still a drug specialist at Boston University School of Medicine, the letter was never intended to have any bearing on painkiller use outside short-term hospital visits.

"I'm essentially mortified that that letter to the editor was used as an excuse to do what these drug companies did," he told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "They used this letter to spread the word that these drugs were not very addictive."

An editor's note on the New England Journal of Medicine now reads: "For reasons of public health, readers should be aware that this letter has been 'heavily and uncritically cited' as evidence that addiction is rare with opioid therapy." It links to the review by the Canadian researchers.

The story behind the letter was documented extensively by journalist Sam Quinones in his 2015 book "Dreamland," an account of the opioid crisis in the United States.

According to Quinones, the letter seemed to go largely unnoticed until 1986, when it was cited in a paper in Pain, the journal of the American Pain Society. From there, other scholars began to repeat its findings - often, as Quinones notes, without the important context that the patients analyzed were administered small doses of opioids by doctors, not sent home with bottles of prescription pills.

Eventually, the paragraph of findings became known simply as "Porter and Jick." The nickname only made things worse.

"That shorthand, in turn, lent the prestige to the tiny thing and the claim attributed to it," Quinones writes, "that less than 1 percent of patients treated with narcotics developed addictions to them."

By the 1990s, the letter had become a "foundation for a revolution in U.S. medical practice," according to Dreamland. Researchers were urged to "consider the work" of Porter and Jick. A Scientific American article mentioned the pair's "extensive study." A registered nurse referred to it as "gospel." And in 2001, Time Magazine article called it a "landmark study" showing that fears of addiction were "basically unwarranted."

A key reason the letter was misinterpreted had to do with the New England Journal of Medicine's archives, according to Dreamland. None of the journal's material before 1993 was available online until 2010. So when the letter was cited, it had the appearance of being a peer-reviewed study, not a terse letter to the editor meant only to stimulate conversation among fellow researchers.

In the meantime, Quinones writes, Jick did a range of other scholarly work. And, as he told the Associated Press, he went on to testify as a witness for the government in a lawsuit involving the marketing of painkillers. He was apparently unaware for some time of what his short letter had triggered.

"It's an amazing thing," Jick said, according to Dreamland. "That particular letter, for me, is very near the bottom of a long lit of studies that I've done. It's useful as it stands because there's nothing else like it on hospitalized patients. But if you read it carefully, it does not speak to the level of addiction in outpatients who take these drugs for chronic pain."

WV leaders praise withdrawal from climate deal http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170601/GZ0101/170609943 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170601/GZ0101/170609943 Thu, 1 Jun 2017 18:43:38 -0400 Jake Zuckerman By Jake Zuckerman President Donald Trump's announcement Thursday to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, an international effort agreed upon in 2015 to curb greenhouse gas emissions, earned him pats on the back from West Virginia's congressional delegation.

The agreement, signed onto by 195 countries, worked as a mutual pact to stymie the flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the environment contributing to global warming.

Despite scientific evidence of climate change and risk of future damage to the planet, all five members of West Virginia's congressional delegation issued supporting statements through their media teams within an hour of the news.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said "onerous" environmental regulations have harmed the state's labor force, and the withdrawal will help with a potential rebound.

"President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement is the right decision for the American economy and workers in West Virginia and across the country," she said. "West Virginians have suffered tremendous economic calamity as a result of the Obama administration's anti-coal agenda, and President Obama should not have unilaterally committed the United States to an international climate agreement without consent of the Senate."

The remark comes when even members of Trump's own Cabinet have said easing regulations on environmental protection won't help coal rebound because natural gas remains a cheaper option.

In similar fashion to Capito, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praised Trump's decision, breaking ranks with his party.

"While I believe that the United States and the world should continue to pursue a cleaner energy future, I do not believe that the Paris agreement ensures a balance between our environment and our economy," he said. "To find that balance, we should seek agreements that prioritize the protection of the American consumer, as well as energy-producing states like West Virginia, while also incentivizing the development of advanced fossil energy technologies."

All three of West Virginia's House representatives applauded the move, as well.

In the 1st District, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., sided with the president.

"The Paris Climate Agreement is a flawed deal that puts America's energy needs and economic growth on the back burner, while transferring money and power to unelected international bureaucrats," he said. "I urge President Trump to seize this opportunity and champion technology to provide affordable, efficient and reliable energy."

McKinley introduced House resolutions in 2015 and 2017 calling for the United States to withdraw, and penned a letter in April calling for the withdrawal that 12 House members signed onto, including the rest of the West Virginia delegation.

In the 2nd District, Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., who attended the White House announcement Thursday, criticized the agreement, echoing Capito in attacking the Obama administration and seeming to argue that the move will help the state's coal industry.

In the 3rd District, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., shared similar thoughts.

"The Paris accord puts the United States on an uneven playing field, forcing us to make costly reductions, all while countries like China and India make their own rules," he said before adding to the criticism of the Obama administration.

During his announcement Thursday, Trump said he would negotiate a better deal for the United States. However, member countries of the accord said such negotiations are not possible.

While the United States may exit the agreement, it could take four years to complete a full withdrawal from it.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

House Intel issues 7 subpoenas, Comey cleared to testify again http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170531/GZ0113/170539894 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170531/GZ0113/170539894 Wed, 31 May 2017 23:19:07 -0400 By Deb Riechmann and Jake Pearson The Associated Press By By Deb Riechmann and Jake Pearson The Associated Press WASHINGTON - The House intelligence committee said Wednesday it is issuing subpoenas for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as well as their businesses, as part of its investigation into Russian activities during last year's election.

In addition to those four subpoenas, the committee has issued three others - to the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA - for information about requests that government officials made to "unmask" the identities of U.S. individuals named in classified intelligence reports, according to a congressional aide.

The subpoenas were announced as the special counsel overseeing the government's investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia has approved former FBI Director James Comey to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, according to a Comey associate.

At a Wednesday briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said inquiries about the Russia investigation must be directed to Marc Kasowitz, another of Trump's personal attorneys. It marked the first time the White House had officially acknowledged that outside counsel had been retained. Calls and emails to Kasowitz's New York firm were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The Comey associate, who wasn't authorized to discuss details of the testimony and spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss the content of Comey's planned testimony. The associate did say that Robert Mueller, whom the Justice Department appointed earlier this month to lead the government's inquiry, is allowing Comey to make certain statements.

Lawmakers are likely to ask Comey about his interactions with Trump as the bureau pursued its investigation into his campaign's contacts.

Associates have said Comey wrote memos describing certain interactions with Trump that gave him pause in the months after the election, including details of a dinner in which he claimed the president asked him to pledge his loyalty, and a request to shut down the investigation of Flynn.

A spokesman for Mueller, a former FBI director, declined to comment. Mueller's separate probe could conceivably look at the circumstances surrounding Comey's firing.

Congress is currently out of session. It resumes next Tuesday. No date for Comey's testimony has been set.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Comey planned to testify before the Senate committee after Memorial Day, but the approval from Mueller to do so could indicate that date is fast approaching.

A spokeswoman for the committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the committee welcomes Comey's testimony, but declined to comment further.

The House panel pursuing its own investigation of the Trump campaign and possible Russia ties has also sought information from Comey, asking the FBI to turn over documents related to his interactions with both the White House and the Justice Department.

Subpoenas were approved Wednesday for Flynn and his company, Flynn Intel Group, and Cohen, and his firm, Michael D. Cohen & Associates.

Cohen, who had refused an earlier request for information, saying it was "not capable of being answered," told The Associated Press on Wednesday, "If subpoenaed, I will work with my lawyers to cooperate with the various investigations."

The subpoenas sent to government agencies were related to Trump's complaints that Obama administration officials had asked, for political reasons, to be told the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports. Officials only "unmask" the identities of Americans for certain reasons - for example, if the name of a person is needed to understand the intelligence being provided.

Another senior committee aide said any subpoenas related to the unmasking issue would have been sent by committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who recused himself from the Russia investigation after being criticized for being too close to the White House. The committee aide, who wasn't authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the action would have been taken without agreement from the Democratic minority on the committee.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed allegations that his campaign collaborated with Russia ahead of the presidential election. Early Wednesday morning, the president tweeted "Witch Hunt!" in reference to testimony by Comey and former CIA director John Brennan before Congress on the topic.

Also Wednesday, a Justice Department official confirmed that Mueller had named a top Justice Department official to his team. Andrew Weissmann had been head of the criminal division's fraud section since 2015.

The longtime Justice official previously served as FBI general counsel under Mueller. He began his career with Justice in 1991 at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of New York. He later joined and ran the Enron Task Force.

The department official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to publicly announce the appointment.

Trump nearing decision on Paris climate deal http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170531/GZ0101/170539940 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170531/GZ0101/170539940 Wed, 31 May 2017 11:18:16 -0400 By Chris Mooney The Washington Post By By Chris Mooney The Washington Post President Donald Trump is nearing a final decision on whether to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, with one White House official saying Wednesday that the president is leaning towards an exit but three others cautioning that he had not yet reached a verdict.

The decision over the Paris climate agreement has deeply divided the Administration, with Ivanka Trump and the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the president to remain in the deal and White House strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushing for a withdrawal.

A number of reports suggested Trump was leaning towards withdrawal, but White House officials cautioned Wednesday morning that the president had yet to take a final decision.

A withdrawal, as supported by Pruitt, would put the United States in the same camp as Syria and Nicaragua: a tiny group of countries refusing to participate in the almost universally supported Paris climate change agreement.

The president himself added to the intense speculation about the future of the agreement Wednesday morning, tweeting that it would be announced "over the next few days."

I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017

More than 190 nations agreed to the text of the accord in December of 2015 in Paris, and 147 have already ratified or otherwise joined, including the United States, representing more than 80 percent of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions.

A U.S. withdrawal would remove the world's second largest emitter and nearly 18 percent of the globe's present day emissions from the agreement, presenting a severe challenge to its structure and raising questions about whether it will weaken the commitments of other nations.

Trump had already, through executive orders, moved to roll back key Obama administration policies, most of all the EPA's Clean Power Plan, that comprised a key part of the U.S.'s promise to reduce its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2025.

As of 2015, emissions were already 12 percent lower, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The decision over Paris has deeply divided the Administration, with internationalists, such as Tillerson, arguing that it would be beneficial to the United States to remain part of negotiations and international meetings surrounding the agreement, as a matter of leverage and influence.

Conservatives, such as Pruitt, have argued the agreement wasn't fair to the United States and the fact of the U.S. staying in would be used as a weapon by environmental groups seeking to fight Trump environmental policies.

Due to Trump's environmental policies, it has been clear to all that it would be impossible to honor the Obama administration's Paris pledge.

That leaves Trump with two clear choices: withdraw from Paris or revise the U.S. pledge downward to something more realistic in light of domestic policies, but nonetheless stay in the accord.

A downward revision would certainly prompt criticism from the international community, but not nearly so much as an abandonment. The Paris agreement is, after all, the first global accord on climate change action that has managed to unify both developed and developing nations behind a single framework to cut emissions.

Moreover, the accord is flexible in the sense that it does not mandate that any nation achieve any particular level of emissions cuts. Rather, every nation under the agreement pledges to do the best it can, and to participate in a process in which nations will regularly increase their ambition over time.

The ultimate goal is to hold the warming of the planet to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming above the temperatures found in the pre-industrial times of the late 1800s. The Earth is already about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was at that time, scientists have determined, and current and near future emissions seem quite likely to take the planet past 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) in the coming decades.

According to the language of the agreement, a party that has fully joined the accord, as the U.S. has, cannot formally withdraw for three years after the date of joining - and that is then capped by an extra year long waiting period.

If this language frustrates Trump enough, he could opt to withdraw from the more foundational United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which laid the groundwork for the Paris deal, and was signed by George H.W. Bush and ratified by the Senate in the early 1990s.

But that is an even more radical move that would further withdraw the United States from all international climate change negotiations.

It will be difficult for the president to argue that the Paris agreement hurts the U.S. economy, given that it has been overwhelmingly supported by U.S. businesses, and given that its flexibility means that it does not impose any specific requirement to cut emissions by a particular amount.

Because the U.S. is the second largest emitter, removing the country from Paris could also remove 21 percent of the emissions reductions that would have been achieved by the year 2030, according to an analysis by the think tank Climate Interactive. Other countries would have to make up the difference, with the likeliest candidates being China - the world's top emitter - or India, a nation expected to experience some of the fastest emissions growth in coming decades.

- - -

The Post's Philip Rucker contributed to this report


The only place in America where coal demand has risen is Nebraska http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170530/GZ0113/170539979 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170530/GZ0113/170539979 Tue, 30 May 2017 11:50:58 -0400 By Tim Loh Bloomberg By By Tim Loh Bloomberg Looking for a rare bright spot in U.S. coal?

Consider Nebraska, the only state producing more electricity from the fossil fuel than it did a decade ago, according to a Bloomberg analysis of U.S. government data.

While America's slashed its coal-fired electricity generation by more than a third between 2006 and 2016 -- creating havoc for the coal sector, which once dominated the country's utility space -- Nebraska raised its coal-fired power output by 6 percent, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Nebraska's better known for corn. But it's home, too, to some of America's newest coal-fired power plants. In 2009, the Omaha Public Power District opened the almost 700-megawatt Nebraska City Station Unit II coal-fired facility. In 2011, the 220-megawatt Whelan Energy Center Unit 2 plant came online. Meanwhile, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant shut down for good last year.

"That will bump up our reliance on coal a little bit," said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office, in a phone interview.

While Nebraska doesn't mine its own coal, it's located conveniently close to Wyoming, which is home to the Powder River Basin, America's largest and cheapest coal-producing region. Nebraska is also unique in that all of its utilities are publicly owned - a result of Great Depression-era legislation - which may have slowed its buildout of alternative energy sources, according to Bracht.

That said, Nebraska's love affair with coal may have peaked in 2013, when it generated more than 26,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity from coal, according to the EIA. In 2016, it only generated about 22,000 gigawatt-hours from the mineral. Meanwhile, the state's roughly doubled the electricity it's generating from wind.

"We have significant wind resources to be developed," Bracht said. "We expect that to be increased as well."